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Living up to the Reputation
It was delightful, after a gap of several years, to be able to review something new to me, even though it is a television play made over half a century ago. That it has survived to watch all these years later is even moor delightful.
A previous reviewer has offered a reasonable summation of the bare bones of the plot so I will not repeat what can already be read elsewhere.
Prior to watching this, I already knew the bare bones too, but had no idea of the structure. Coming at it as primarily a McGoohan fan, my perception was in some ways geared to how he would appear. He was to win a TV Actor of the Year Award in the UK in 1959 and this play was one of those quoted as justifying his coming top of the heap that year. Thus it was that, as I enjoyed Donald Pleasence and the other actors building the tension, I began to fear for McGoohan's performance. How was it going to come across all these years later? Most of all, I wondered how he could possibly meet the expectation being generated in the audience for a man so vile that even his own mother hoped he crashed and burned on re-entry?!
There was a huge plot-hole in all this build-up of course, since there were too many people who knew the real Jackie Smurch to have ever allowed his being presented to the public as an All American Hero. On the other hand, as the raucous muted trumpet sound emphasised, as each terrible anecdote was told about him, this play was very much intended as satirical Farce, so too much seeking of realism would be futile.
With that in mind, how COULD McGoohan possibly meet the expectations? He did it by simply letting go. Utilising the natural skill of an experienced theatre actor, he just 'went for it'. He didn't play the part as if Jackie was a monster; he just played him as the man Jackie was meant to be - an old-fashioned slob who compromised for nothing and nobody. He had flown to the moon to get Dames and Money, and Money and Dames would be all he would be interested in. McGoohan played him as exactly that simple. The wonder of McGoohan was that he could make us believe this character could be true. This is always what McGoohan does though - however bizarre or unlikely the character is, McGoohan always believes in himself - and so we believe in him. I can see why he won an Award for this (as well as other TV work back then) because it was just a brilliant piece of Going with the Flow.
There cannot be many other actors who could have done what McGoohan did with this role. Jackie wasn't remarkably horrid or repulsive or any other exaggeration. Jackie just refused to compromise what he was.
This isn't a quote but it just as easily could have been: "I done what I done, so how'd you like dat?!"
They didn't like it, and so the Secretary of State pushed him out of the skyscraper, to save the President's blushes. Another hero bit the dust.
McGoohan just went up another notch on my ladder of LIKE's .... Where's me thumbs-up icon hiding?
The Vise: Blood in the Sky (1958)
Doing it by the Numbers
Up until the moment I saw this episode of the long-running 'Mark Saber' series, I did not even know it still existed. I had toddled along to the British Film Institute to watch three shows scripted by Brian Clemens. One of the three was advertised as being an episode of a different series called 'Rendezvous' - the episode being 'The Executioner' which I had seen a few years before but was happy to go to see again. My review of that show can be found elsewhere in my IMDb portfolio of McGoohan work. When I arrived at the venue, the blurb stated that the third show on the bill would be "Blood in the Sky".... But I had never heard that this film even still existed and thought there must be some kind of mistake. But there wasn't, so here is a subjective memory of something I watched in a whirl of excited bewilderment.
The show opens with the man trapped in a giant vise - harking back to the original title of this series back in 1954/55: The Vise. By 1957 it had transmogrified into a vehicle for the popular one-armed detective Mark Saber. He is a private investigator, based in London. There is an airport scene - holidaymakers heading for sunnier climes - a plane is in the air - an explosion - a whirling newspaper headlined with disaster. Such is the prologue and next we are taken to the office of the private detective. He is struggling to make ends meet it seems - he's chatting to his faithful assistant about the lack of business but, just then, one persons disaster becomes another's salvation. An executive from the air company called Tom Vance arrives, he needs Saber to discover the cause of the disaster. If it is caused by a failure of the aircraft his company could be doomed. Patrick McGoohan is Tom Vance. He's an efficient, precise and clear talker. He explains the dilemma with clarity to Donald Gray's Mark Saber. His company is convinced the disaster is caused by sabotage, but they have no proof and without proof they could be ruined by the claims against their technical standards. Vance gives Saber the list of passengers. The interview ends and Vance leaves, reminding Saber of the importance and secrecy of this assignment. We won't see Vance again, but within three years or so, the man playing him will become one of the most recognised and popular TV actors in the country.
The remainder of the episode is as much by the numbers as McGoohan's performance. Saber gets to interview all the relatives and business associates of the dead people on the plane. He finds more than one red herring but no rotten fish. It's looking like failure. If Saber cannot find the solution then Vance's airline will go bust and nobody will be getting paid. Just as all seems hopeless..... Saber has a brainwave! It's all to do with big cats you see; lions live in Africa, tigers only in India. The plane was flying to Africa but the business associate of one of the victims remarked that he hadn't minded missing out on the trip because he had shot tigers before. On such small slips does the vise of fate squeeze, and as Saber declares, because of one man's greed there was........... blood in the sky.......
Blood in the Sky was merely an apostrophe in the career of Patrick McGoohan, but has been quite a punctuation mark in my small mission to watch him. After all, I have now seen what I had believed no longer existed. It doesn't get any better than that really. Be seeing you next time.
Politics, Sex and Religion
This TV play is a remarkable historical document. The theatre play was only written in 1959 and in 1961 the actual playwright, John Arden, personally revamped his text into a screenplay. In so doing, the Times critic of the day remarked that he had significantly improved the accessibility of the piece. Given the way this TV play seems to have entirely dropped off the radar I thought I would make a quick run-through of the play, as best I can remember it from a very recent trip to the British Film Institute.
The play opens with a bearded Patrick McGoohan's Serjeant Musgrave overseeing the arrival of a large wooden box into a dour and freezing Northern British coal town. He is accompanied by three Privates. We are made aware that something is very wrong....... The army men begin to settle into the town. They appear to be a recruiting party, seeking men for the glorious army. The town is not a well place. The coal-miners have been in dispute with the colliery owners and the result has been a 'lock-out'. The Establishment is determined to break the will of the social agitators in the town. The towns-people are united however. The arrival of the recruiting serjeant leads the authorities to spot an opportunity to break their ranks. The mayor approaches the serjeant and offers him 2 gold sovereigns to add to the queens shilling, for every man he manages to recruit. Serjeant Musgrave keeps his own counsel but we begin to guess the corruption of the establishment is adding fuel to some unknown fire of anger within him.
The recruiting party find rooming at the local pub. Two women run the place, the older women empathetic to the bitterness she already sees within these soldiers, especially the tall bearded strongest one; whilst the younger daughter sees the masculinity she craves and has lost, her soldier lover has gone, their baby dead at birth - she alone after his death. The mother tells Black Jack of her daughters loss....... Black Jack tells her of a soldier he once knew, called Billy. Her daughters boy was called Billy.......
The real purpose of the soldier quartet is pretty much fully explicated in a scene in a snow-blown, desolate graveyard. One of them, played by John Thaw, is only there because Black Jack Musgrave has a hold over him, because of his shooting in the streets of an faraway city of the British Empire; streets that saw the death of Billy, streets that saw the slaughter of many in military reprisal for Billy's death. These traumatised soldiers are locked together in some strange embrace of vengeance. Whilst in the midst of their deliberations, the towns-people interrupt, warning the soldiers that if they attempt to break their *strike* they will find they will not succeed. Black Jack assures them that their industrial unrest is none of his concern. he invites them all for a drink at the town pub, where he and his colleagues are now rooming.
We switch to the pub. It is later and the pub is full of drinking men, hosted by an ebullient Black Jack. The young girl is making her away around the soldiers, seeking something, something she remembers as love. She rebuffs the junior soldiers playfully, assuring them that first she must have the big guy...... She is warned, but she does not listen...... Black Jack angrily rebuffs her advance, warning her to keep her carnality away from his men, who must not be side-tracked from their mission! Needless to say, Jack's will is not to be obeyed.
Later that night, whilst Jack is having nightmares of death in an upper room, comforted by the mother, down in the stables below the men are to be found in jealous male combat over the woman and the most harmless, Sparky, is killed by an accident of the struggle. As Jack's black dream explodes into the reality of more death the body is hidden, another death to be atoned for.... and it is this town that is going to pay the price for all the death these soldiers have seen.
The mayor thinks that Jack is going to save his town and the recruiting fayre assembles in the town square. After a variety of speechifying by the great and good, Jack comes to explain himself and soon he comes to the tools of his trade..... the rifle, the bayonet and then he unveils the Gatling gun, "Bang Bang Bang Bang" he recites the story of the soldier and then unveils his greatest secret. From the same box as the machine gun Black Jack draws up the skeleton of the dead Billy, draped by a Union Jack. He has a plan of "perfect number and logic". There were five men killed for Billy by the military reprisal. This town sent Billy to the army, so there will be five of each of these people for those five killed for their Empire! 25 for 5. Perfect numbers. Perfect Logic.
As the full enormity and terror of Jack's black plans emerge, the town panics, but then the dragoons searching for the four deserters arrive! The town is saved! A second of Jack's gang is shot down and finally there is just Jack and the older soldier, the one riven with guilt and the one mad with ideas of divine plans for just retribution. The world continues oblivious. The world-weary but sympathetic mother brings them both a drink and comforts Jack, reminding him that whilst the towns-folk are hungry and poor they have no interest in the troubles of others. The error of Jack's anticipated modus-operandi with the Gatling gun is pointed out to him by his now rueful companion: "You cannot fight the pox by whoring".
Patrick McGoohan dominates the play as the crazed Serjeant and the 1961 critic who said this was his best TV performance to that date was surely not wrong.
Breaking Down Walls
If anything demonstrates the over-weening arrogance of fans of The Prisoner mucking about with the episode order of McGoohan's meisterwerk, it is surely putting this brilliant piece of allegorical theatre into any position other than it's carefully selected placing, just before the two-part denouement of this uniquely inventive series. The piece begins with a sequence of vignettes illustrating that many of the apparent central tenets of the show to that point are merely means to a dramatic end. Hence we have a number of mild parodies of secret agent clichés.
Interestingly however some of these are quite inventive, demonstrating the respect McGoohan retained for the milieu in which he had risen to international prominence in 1967. A number of shows are probably referenced: certainly The Avengers, which was by this time preeminent in the secret agent genre, but a show in which imaginatively silly self-mockery was a large part of its appeal... or should that be a Peel............ The sex appeal, or should that be a Peel that had so far often been absent in The Prisoner comes to the fore, with the delicious legs of Justine Lord mesmerising the viewers as the girl who is death sets about her mission. Mission Impossible is another show mildly mocked as the Holmesian British agent receives his recorded instructions, but rather than self-destruct, the recorded message talks back to our hero. And so the show must go on.......... and on and on it goes through a funfair... a veritable Amusement Park...........
The skillful use of Narrative, often the strongest suit of the noir days of Danger Man in the earlier 1960's, resets the mood as our hero enters the deadly warehouse. Against a background of cleverly circumvented puzzles the deathly girl explains the paradoxes we face.......
You are a born survivor. I am a born killer.
Is your heart pounding? Your hand shaking? That's Love my darling.
Don't let silly pride stand in your way.
One or two Jams (sic) Bond references had been apparent as the hero emerged from the steam bath, dressed in his deerstalker outfit, much as Bond strips off frogmen suits and is dressed in an evening suit underneath. The escape with the bulldozer also preempts many movie tricks as the hero uses the spade to create himself a veritable tank, but perhaps the most telling allegory was the automatic Bren Gun scene. This directly mirrored a closing scene in the final Japanese adventures of John Drake, when a ludicrous machine gun pops out of the uber-villains desk, in Shinda Shima. Clearly gutted by the direction Sidney Cole was taking his beloved show, McGoohan famously walked away from it. Fan legend has it that this whole episode "The Girl Who Was Death", was derived by Everyman co-producer David Tomblin from an unshot episode of the Danger Man series that never was. The bren gun scene is perhaps Mcgoohan's pointed riposte that if the likes of George Markstein (the new script editor on the final two episodes of Danger Man to be filmed) had thought he could turn McGoohan's beloved John Drake into the utterly crass secret agent so favoured after 1965.... well he had had another think coming and it was Goodnight George........
And so into the final scenes, which were vital to McGoohan's story-telling, containing as they did the introduction to the Chamber stylisations that would ultimately host Fall-Out, and indeed the Chaplinesque battle with the Napoleonic forces almost prefigures the more violent Pantomime still to come in the conclusion, not to mention the notion of a Rocket.... So why was this episode so important? Why was this episode so carefully constructed and placed where it was? Any serious viewer will see the significance immediately. This was the theatrical announcement of the classic theatrical actor.......... This was McGoohan's dismantling of the Fourth Wall.
And that is how I saved London from a mad scientist Goodnight Children
and then Number Six looks at us, through the figure of Number Two and adds....
And so, we now know that what we have seen has been a story..... a show..... it was never meant to be real..... There is no Village -pretend or otherwise...........
It was all........... Once Upon A Time.............
Brass Target (1978)
One Day I May Watch This Movie
One day I might. So far I have watched the half-hour Macauley Mini-Movie. That has already earned Brass Target 9 out of 10, so the whole movie could well be a classic of epic proportions.
Patrick McGoohan makes his entry to the movie a short way in, after a classy prologue explains the plot of the movie itself. Colonel Macauley is found, lording it up in a German castle, captured by the Allies. He is dressed in an alpine woolly jumper, with a gay Austrian titfer, complete with feathery knick-knack in the hat-band. He has been sought out by embittered OSS veteran John Cassavetes. Cassavetes is obviously fond of the old warrior. He knows Macauley is a ne'er-do-well shyster these days, but in an odd kind of way he still trusts him. Cassavetes seeks his help in the investigation of a huge Reichs-Gold theft but leaves disappointed, eventually, after watching Macauley enjoying a sampling of the best German wines his new Bultler can find for him, in the cellar of the castle. Sophia Loren arrives and the gallant Macauley beckons her within his gatehouse sweeping a low bow to the Italian beauty as he removes his hat, flashing but briefly his chestnut hair.
Shortly thereafter the scene changes and Macauley is in a jeep. he is in his smartest brown American uniform and after his mildly dissolute appearance of yesterday, we glimpse the soldier that so impressed the earnest Cassavetes. Macauley is, as we say in England, a little bit crooked but he next meets a truly evil man. Bobby Vaughn plays an utterly amoral corrupter of men. He even shocks the swindling Logistics Colonel. Sadly for Macauley he is a victim of his own weaknesses and has no choice other than to be sucked further into a dark plot that has already murdered 50 of his fellow Americans and now seeks the assassination of the greatest General in the Army: Patton.
Macauley has to meet with creepy assassin Max Von Sydow, at his most chilling Scandinavian best. He hands over $500,000 for the 'Hit'. We are becoming conscious that whilst Macauley is sleep-walking into this mire of murderous intent, his conscience may send him to Cassavetes at some point, to undo this madness he has embroiled himself in. First however Macauley must relax after the tension of his meeting with the cold gunman. He is met, not by his expected paramour, but by a mysterious and beautiful Fraulein. She persuades him he can trust her by stripping to her brassiere. At this point McGoohan, as Macauley comments, as he eyes her up and down, that he has had a "hard, hard day" or perhaps he said he'd had a "hard, hard time". I'm not sure which, because by then I was giggling at McGoohan's mischievous performance. I must make notes next time. The young lady leads him to the bathroom, which is rapidly filling with steam and Macauley asks her if there will be Bubbles? Assured there will, he happily heads inside, singing a little bubbles song to himself.
The Fraulein sits down revealing a tidy leg clad in suspenders and stockings. This was promised for Macauley. Unfortunately Bobby Vaughn, guessing that Macauley will inevitably betray the evil plot to Cassavetes, has sent an assassin, who garrotes Macauley whist the poor man was waiting for Bubbles to arrive. We know Macauley is dead because John Cassavetes checks his corpse in the next scene, in the Mortuary.
Patrick McGoohan has now left the building.........
Please Sir! I Want More!
What a joy this was. Angela Lansbury is of course divine, but this episode includes another New American, Patrick McGoohan, not to mention yet a third, Juliet Mills! This 'British' Trio combine to make a most brilliant American show. The old and new worlds sometimes combine to the most marvellous effect.
Some years ago, I almost saw this episode. I walked into the kitchen one day where some American popular show was almost finishing. Paying no attention to the babbling television, a voice suddenly broke into my mind. I knew that voice. It was unmistakable! I had conspired to see the final scene of "Witness for the Defense". I had no sooner convinced my house guests that the guy with the beard was in fact none other than Patrick McGoohan, late of these shores.... than it was over. I had missed the whole thing!! Knowing the frequency with which these shows are repeated I didn't worry too much. It would soon be on again.
Ten or so years later, a friend tipped me off it would finally be on BBC2, on a certain day. The video was primed. I hoped it would be worth the wait.
It is a triumph! McGoohan first appears as a tailors dummy... and it just gets better and better. His entire performance is as overblown as any hugely expensive American Defense Attorney should be! Angela Lansbury has a great time responding to his hugeness. How refreshing she must have found him, I thought. The hidden gem was Juliet Mills. She plays a pretty, but clever Prosecutor. She knows she is up against a tough cookie in Oliver Quayle and she takes her early punishment in good humour. Jessica Fletcher of course is soon on the case as, in a curious case of role reversal, she supplies the Prosecutor with key information in order to demonstrate the innocence of the accused! McGoohan as Quayle enjoys a series of glorious cameos in the court-room. My particular favourite was when he undermined Jessica herself as a credible witness. Quayle enumerated all the many close relatives of Ms. Fletcher who had stood trial for murders and other heinous crimes, whilst Ms. Fetcher herself had once been committed to a Lunatic Asylum! The long history of a programme like 'Murder She Wrote' left Jessica with no choice other than to submit and acquiesce to Quayle's character assassination! The perils of a successful TV Show!! Most famously, later, McGoohan tells Ms. Lansbury that her Jessica is nothing but a "meddlesome busybody"..... something many of us may have thought for some time! However by this time this blousey but honest lawyer is already becoming worried that something about his case, provided to him by the defendants mother, is not quite as it should be.
All this glory is brought to a delightfully tidy ending. The real villain of the piece is a Pantomime Dame of a domineering mother, whose guilt was pretty evident to this viewer from the moment she walked on the set! It is best to get the plot of these shows out of the way at as early a stage as possible, for then you can kick back and enjoy three superb actors making the best television.
McGoohan may not quite be a hero as Oliver Quayle, but he isn't the bad guy and this refreshing change makes the programme a particular favourite of mine, starting from now. I must watch it again soon.....
The Prisoner Video Companion (1990)
If you don't know....Make it up!
The famous opening dialogue for 'The Prisoner' demands information. This video purports to give it, but it is riddled with conjectural nonsense. Some of the 'facts' it claims to reveal are, so far as I can determine, fabrications. I first bought it in the early 1990's and I wasn't especially impressed. Much of it seemed trite. I never watched it again, although it still sits on a shelf.
More recently I have realised that in 1991 Patrick McGoohan himself made clear in an interview that most of the so-called 'facts' the video quoted were not in fact true. He particularly picked out the so-called 'McGoohan-7' episodes, which are claimed on this film. He denied point-blank naming them, and explicitly denied that the episodes quoted on this film would be his choice.
Why it is that the world-wide fan clubs purporting to be fans of this programme have never ensured his views were publicised more is beyond me. But they didn't and the misinformation this film has publicised seems now to have become an accepted 'truth'. The magazine in which this refutation was published, was called 'The Box'.
Another myth that is promulgated is that 'Living in Harmony' was suppressed by CBS for 'anti-Vietnam' ideas. This is utter twaddle. The episode was dropped for scheduling reasons on the first run, but the choice of this episode to drop, was entirely arbitrary and of no consequence. The episode was broadcast in re-runs of the series as early as 1970 in the USA, to my certain knowledge, possibly earlier, depending upon local networks.
Watch it and enjoy the intrigue, but believe very little.
Lost in the fog of war
Having adopted the name of Patrick McGoohan's character as my web ID, I'd almost avoided obtaining a copy of this movie, on the grounds that if it was truly awful and McGoohan's part poor, then I would feel a bit of a fool (Quiet at the back!). Thankfully I can be proud to perpetuate the name: Moor Larkin! Some while ago I bought a copy of 'Zarak Khan', by AJ Bevan. It is possibly one of the strangest books I've ever read. Zarak is a man, born in the most savage of societies. The savagery isn't primitivism, but stems from the strange morality that is deemed to have developed on the 'North West Frontier' of the Indian sub-continent. The book was fore-worded by General Slim, so was no morbid piece of sensationalism. Zarak betrays and is betrayed by not almost, but every, single other character, in the story. Written in 1949, it evidently had some popularity. Read in 2007, I can only attribute that popularity to the recognition of the nihilistic randomness that had so recently afflicted the people of Britain during WWII. The book appears to make no sense from the viewpoint of late 20th Century Western social conscience. Set as it is, essentially in Afghanistan, there is a resonance again however in the 21st Century, as the randomness of reborn violence once again seems inescapable.
So much for the background. What of the film? The production team that would so soon be responsible for the James Bond Franchise set about the job of making Zarak a 'Cinemascope Spectacular'. Indian subjects of the Raj are the bulk of the Redcoats forming rife-volleying ranks, reminiscent of the African-based 'Zulu', but in Zarak they form triple, rather than double ranks: one lying, one kneeling, one standing. Tribal horsemen crash to the ground in a hail of Lee-Enfield bullets. Michael Wilding is a political officer, trying to persuade the locals of the benefits of British rule. Most of them seem convinced. Moor Larkin, played by Patrick McGoohan has fewer illusions. "Burn their villages and fine their men" he advises Wilding's Major Ingram. Death and money are all the locals respond to, so far as Moor Larkin is concerned.
Zarak, played by Victor Mature, seems to be proof that Larkin knows what he is talking about. Zarak doesn't dislike anyone. He doesn't care about anyone. That is the point! He has no feelings either way. Zarak is Zarak. That is enough. If Zarak needs to love, he loves. If Zarak needs to eat, he eats. If Zarak needs money, he takes it from whoever has it. If Zarak needs to kill, he kills. Zarak doesn't do any of this for a reason. He seeks no power. A natural tribal leader, with more ferocity than any of his peers, he has no wish to lead. He uses followers to achieve his goals and then moves on.
The film follows the battles, both military and those of the will, between Zarak and the British authorities. McGoohans' Larkin leads the forces as he attempts to preserve the life of the wishful-thinking Political officer, and achieve the capture of the outlaw, Zarak.
Zarak is given a lover in the film. The introduction of Anita Ekberg was possibly the box-office life of the movie, but it's artistic death. Eunice Gayson pops in as the love interest for Major Ingram, the political officer. Her role is quite useful and makes a lot more sense than Ms. Ekberg; not that that was Ms. Ekberg's fault: if the producers dress her in wispy silk and make her gyrate at key moments of the movie, she can hardly be taken very seriously by anyone, I suppose. In a similar way this difficult story becomes enmeshed in military spectacle. If you just watch the film, you'll enjoy parts of it, but be confused by the whole. If you read the book and then watch the film, you can read between the frames and notice that Victor Mature actually does quite a good job, as does Patrick Mcgoohan. I suspect that they might both have been greatly disappointed when they saw the finished movie. Victor Mature probably laughed and chalked it up as another example of the mad movie-world he was so familiar with. Patrick McGoohan possibly took things a lot more seriously and was so ticked off with the directors/producers that he refused to get involved with them again, when they came up with some secret agent nonsense in 1960. No, he famously said. Doctor No, they said.
At the end of the movie, Zarak has given his life for Ingram. Moor Larkin explains that "Zarak hated the world. He gave his life, merely to show his contempt for that world and everyone in it". Ingram mumbles something about "Greater love hath no man, than he gives his life for an enemy". Moor Larkin probably got closest to the truth.
Columbo: Ashes to Ashes (1998)
All is Dust
As a Patrick McGoohan fan, I'd been trying to catch this one for a while, having missed it in the late 1990's when Columbo was still prime-time. This episode was broadcast on a Sunday morning in England, at 11am. How the mighty are fallen, the great humbled, and the classics a mere space-filler. Time waits for no man and all that.
The episode is a rip-snorter, full of delightful performances and character combinations. It was essentially the final filmed performance by the great actor, Patrick McGoohan (barring some unexpected late-life cameo) and as such, it is as perfect an adieu to the medium as there could be. McGoohan often likes to add personal notes to his Columbo movies, and so in this plot his character's would-be nemesis (Golden Girl, Rue McLanahan) refers to his Eric Prince character as having been a "never-was actor from England, who never-was over here either!" Adding a further layer of subsumed reference is the presence of Catherine McGoohan, as Rita, Eric Prince's efficiently innocent mortuary assistant. She is given the task of beginning the end of her boss when she advises Eric Prince that, "Someone's waiting for you in the display-room." A corpse might be expected in such a setting, but whilst any corpse would barely ruffle the arch mortician that was Eric, the thick cigar-smoke wafting above the open coffin signals to us that Eric's time-clock is now ticking. Columbo has arrived! By the time Peter Falk shuffles in, we are already twenty minutes into the show. When we see him we realise why he is only putting in half a shift. Man! Columbo is old! He's grey, wizened and almost gap-toothed. His speed is gone. But what he lacks in speed has been replaced by wisdom. Heck, he's done so many of these cases he figures out what has gone on, in the twinkling of an old dog's eye.
McGoohan's Prince, is flabbergasted. He's on a hook and no matter how cleverly he shifts his weight, he knows he's being reeled in. he doesn't know how the other guy knows, but he knows he knows; and the other guy knows he knows he knows. Time to party! Two old men (McGoohan was 70, Falk 71) decide to fun with us young 'uns by playing up the fact we're all gonna die! Ashes to Ashes! We are taken to a Funeral Directors' "Man of the Year" ceremony! Death is all around: we have an uneasy fear of it. These guys laugh at it! They even make up witty songs about it. Death is a part of their life. The very last line has one saying to the other: "It's your funeral!" What a way to go.
By pure chance this viewer watched an old 1955 film for the first time, on a DVD at 11pm the night before this show. In the 1955 film Patrick McGoohan was playing scenes with Errol Flynn! Forty-three years later he played his final scenes with Peter Falk. Half a century after Errol Flynn became ashes, this viewer feels privileged to have been able to watch, in the space of twelve hours, what took these men a lifetime to achieve.
We'll seeing you, in all the old familiar places.
The Dark Avenger (1955)
British Colour in 1955
Walter Mirisch produced this movie in England. It was a star vehicle for Errol Flynn, who was 46 by then. Along for the ride was Peter Finch, only a couple of years younger. Their female co-star (Joanne Dru) was barely in the movie and her female role was completely eclipsed by a girl-in-a-bar cameo from Yvonne Furneaux. You got the feeling that if Errol had been the one to choose, Yvonne would have been his girl. Anyhow, girls in this movie are entirely incidental. So was Errol's man-at-arms, who had barely two lines to rub together, but he expressed himself manfully with stern expressions nonetheless. He passed, and received, items from the lead actor with all the aplomb due from any nervous young actor, whose first big movie role put him cheek by jowl with the legend that was Errol Flynn. Patrick McGoohan was the black and white chequered knight, with the yellow plume, and shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair. Patrick McGoohan was no spring chicken himself, at 26 or 27, but he had been a late starter, not acting professionally until he was 22. Within five years he had graduated from a small theatre in Sheffield, England, to the technicolor company of the biggest movie-star in the world. He must have been proud.
Movie-goers got full value for their box-office shilling in this film. Errol is in almost every scene. The film opens with the ending of a war between England and France. A truce has been reached and peace is meant to reign. I won't go into the politics, but in this movie, the French Nobles are unhappy that the son of Edward III is a fair-minded fellow who tells the French peasantry that they no longer have to pay unreasonable taxes and perform other onerous duties for their aristocracy. The Nobles decide to rebel, and break the truce. Leading this treachery is Peter Finch's 'Count d' Evil'..... Viewers are left in no doubt as to which side to be on! Any doubts are settled when d'Evil sends men under-cover to try and assassinate the English prince. The plot is foiled, with the help of sturdy man-at-arms, McGoohan, who clashes steel with the bad guys as he defends his principal man. As the plot is averted, Flynn rides out with an expeditionary force, seeking revenge and to bring the evil one to justice.
The conflict goes badly for Flynn at first. He appears to only have about twenty knights so how he thought he could win, is a bit of a puzzle. Presumably the Mirisch knight-budget was a little thin. Soundly thrashed by an equally colourful, but more numerous French force, Errol Flynn is forced to go under cover. McGoohan's faithful manservant is assumed dead. Errol finds a touch of romance in a French country pub with Yvonne, but more importantly lays his hands on a spare set of armour, hanging above the fireplace. Blackened from long exposure to the sooty smoke, we discover how Edward's son became The Black Prince! In purloining the armour Flynn unfortunately awakes Christopher Lee, who appears to have a slight Norfolk accent. I have read Mr. Lee suffered a broken finger in the ensuing swordfight. He should feel fortunate not to have died, because his character does.
The Black Prince ingratiates himself into the evil one's French force by the simple expedient of remaining unrecognised by: 1) shaving off his moustache; 2) keeping his helmet down as much as possible and calling himself Edouard, rather than Edward. Once in the enemy castle the prince has a number of nocturnal adventures which finally result in his rescuing the damsel Dru, who has been taken hostage. He has finally been rumbled however. The evil one's superior, the French Constable, knows Edward personally and the francophile name-tweak fools him not for an instant. In a desperate chase The Black prince gets the damsel back to his castle and a mighty siege ensues.
The English seem hopelessly outnumbered (again) but finally come up trumps by setting a fire-trap for the invading French army, who blunder to a burning barrage of straw bales. Victory is achieved and the girl gets a big Flynn kiss.
Best of all though, one of the cheering knights is none other than Patrick McGoohan, in his black and white chequerboard outfit. He didn't die after all!